American composer

Centennial tribute to American composer Samuel Barber

American composer Samuel Barber, shown in 1963, has remained true to his art throughout his career, producing superb works in many genres without jumping on the avant-garde bandwagon.

TO CLOSE

Now that the music world has paid bicentennial homage to Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, it’s time to sing Happy 100th Birthday to Samuel Barber.

The American composer of neo-romantic music has generously contributed to the concert and opera repertoire. He is best known for his Adagio for Strings, a grimly beautiful work that Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra first performed on a radio show in 1938.

An accomplished baritone, Barber was particularly sensitive to the setting of words to music. Some of her outstanding vocal creations include “Dover Beach”, “Hermit Songs” and “Knoxville: Summer of 1915”. He collaborated with his longtime partner, composer-librettist Gian Carlo Menotti, on a successful opera, “Vanessa”, and with Franco Zeffirelli on “Antony and Cleopatra”, which had a disastrous first opening the new Metropolitan Opera House in 1966, but whose musical strengths have since been announced.

Barber, who died in 1981, received two Pulitzer Prizes for music – for “Vanessa” (1958) and the Piano Concerto (1963). His works can be heard on numerous recordings, including a 1931 “Dover Beach” with Barber as soloist.

menotti.jpgGian Carlo Menotti has been Barber’s partner for almost five decades. Menotti, himself a successful composer, provided the libretto for their opera, “Vanessa”, which had its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1958.
vanessa.jpgElizabeth Holleque, left, sang the title role and Charlotte Hellekant was Erika in the Washington Opera / Dallas Opera production of Barber’s “Vanessa” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, in 1995.
toscanini.jpgThe colossal Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini was one of Barber’s first champions, whose Adagio for strings – the second movement of his String Quartet arranged for string orchestra – was among the few contemporary works conducted by Toscanini with the NBC Symphony Orchestra.
leontyne.jpgSoprano Leontyne Price has performed Barber’s music often, beginning with a 1953 recital (with the composer as pianist) at the Library of Congress. She made a delightful recording of “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” and sang the role of Cleopatra in the beleaguered world premiere of Barber’s second and final opera, “Antony and Cleopatra”, in New York City in 1966.


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